I love a good action movie about an assassin. It’s my kryptonite, and South Korea has a damn good track record. Kill Boksoon, written and directed by Byun Sung-hyun, the film centers on a hitwoman who leads a double life, balancing being a mother of a teenage daughter and a professional killer who is at the top of her industry.
Gil Boksoon (Jeon Do-yeon), isn’t just our star for the film, but she’s a total star at her top-tier killing agency MK Ent., an agency that uses acting language to hide the bodies and have conversations in public; Boksoon is a legend with fans and everything that comes with it. But attachments and a maternal instinct make her job a hard one. A killer with a 100% success rate and a mother of her teenage daughter, Jae-young, Boksoon is struggling to hold both parts of her life in order.
When it is about time to renew her agency contract, she decides to retire to repair the relationship with her daughter but when her final assignment goes awry, Boksoon discovers a secret about the mission and breaks the main rule of the job: execute the mission at all costs. Now a target of her agency and the entire hitman industry, Boksoon kills her way out from under MK Ent. but at great cost.
As our lead, Jeon Do-yeon is compelling. She balances being absolutely cold and entirely connected. Flipping her empathy on and off, she’s cold when she engages with colleagues and “lovers,” but when she’s with her daughter or her mentee, she feels deeply. It’s in the moments when she moves between the two that she shines as an actress, and her physical abilities come into focus as a vital part of her character. By the film’s finale, it’s clear that the fact that she can see ahead of others’ moves, a quality we see realized in hypothetical fights that filled the film from the opening, is deeply rooted not in just finishing the job but making it home to her daughter.
The complex mother-daughter relationship in the film is pushed by secrets. It’s about miscommunication between Boksoon and her daughter equally trying to preserve the other’s image of them. But in that, the film allows the relationship to grow and change as the truth reveals itself.I can’t get into too many of the reveals at risk of spoiling the way the two embrace each other through reveals.
Actress Jeon manages to capture the complexity of motherhood against violence in a way that showcases her range. Her ability to capture emotion is matched by her action sequences, and that balance is what helps set the film apart from others in the genre. That said, I don’t want to sell the action Kill Boksoon’s action sequences short.
Often stretched into absurdity and using the body as humor, Kill Boksoon delivers a variety of actions that embraces our lead character’s weaknesses. Gunfights, sword fights, hand-to-hand, and of course, a one-vs-many fight for survival fill the film to the brim. With blood and a chaotic edge, the fights in Kill Boksoon have a life of their own. That said, no matter how much the bend to spectacle each act has a pivotal fight that showcases what I love about the action genre: storytelling through violence, not words.
While it’s easy to just fall in love with the hits and creative environment usage, the film doesn’t have to violence for the sake of it but instead uses it to move through its narrative propelled by the emotions on display in the fight itself. In them, you see Gil Boksoon as mentor, colleague, and lover, expressing the way others see her as much as how she feels in those moments.
If there is one clear element of the film that the spectacularly choreographed fight sequences show is that Boksoon is a myth as much as a person. The best at what she does; every fight carries the weight of what the person she is fighting thinks about her. She is a specter of violence and hitman success and that is captured wonderfully as her world turns against her.
To that point, Sol Kyung-gu as Cha Min-kyu is fantastic in the air of romance he brings. Enamored with Boksoon and moved by her in a different way than everyone else, the chemistry between the two is electric. That electricity is what makes the film’s finale hit that much harder, two people moved by each other and burdened by each other too.
Kill Boksoon manages to be filled with fantastically directed violent sequences while also telling a thoughtful story about a mother and daughter and the trauma the former carries. A solid action film and an even more solid take on motherhood, Kill Boksoon should move to the top of your watchlist.